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Albums Revisited: Gene Loves Jezebel ‘The House of Dolls’

Albums Revisited: Gene Loves Jezebel ‘The House of Dolls’

They were too glam for goth, and too goth for glam. And that’s what kept them interesting. Let’s look back at Gene Loves Jezebel’s  ‘The House of Dolls’, one of the most addictive albums of the 80’s.

It’s March 28th, 1987. I’m at the Arcadia Theatre in Dallas, TX to see Gene Loves Jezebel with openers Flesh For Lulu. It’s the second rock show I’ve ever been to (INXS being the first).

The band were touring for their album The House Of Dolls, which proved to be a defining and divisive point in the band’s history.

But first, some background info; GLJ were a post-punk group forged in the early 80’s. The band’s early mystique revolved around its androgynous dual lead singers, who happened to be identical twins; Jay and Michael Aston.

And while they had emerged in the Goth scene, their wardrobes were drenched in color. And rather than sullen solitude, their music was more concerned with romance than alienation.

On early releases the group had a harsh, angular  tone punctuated by the Aston brothers ethereal banshee wails.

<img src="GLJ-Discover" alt="GLJ Discover"/>

The Aston twins front and center on the ‘Discover’ album cover.

Their first stateside hit was Desire off their album Discover. It flirted with dance beats and benefited from the recent addition of guitarist James Stevenson (formerly of Generation X). He added rock musculature that distinguished them from their more skeletal, austere beginnings.

Click here for my exclusive interview with GLJ guitarist James Stevenson

The band’s follow-up House of Dolls (produced by Peter Walsh) would flirt further with the mainstream, and leave a solidly satisfying, catchy collection of Eighties awesomeness.

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‘The House Of Dolls’ album cover

It opened with Gorgeous, with a decadent riff that reeked of adolescent hormones and romantic longing. It also featured their sexually ambiguous lyrics:

So, you go to a bar and you /Talk to your friends about girls and cars/And even though you’re bored/They’ll only go this far/You’re So Gorgeous baby

This song set the template for Dolls; less experimental textures in exchange for bigger hooks and heavier riffing. Take Set Me Free, which kicks off with a stark staccato riff, or the slithering guitar work that punctuates the sultry Suspicion.

Twenty Killer Hurts is another song with a spiky, funky riff that frames the Aston’s rumination on the dangers of drug addition :

Pretty ballerina
Dance across the floor
She’s got a head full of snow
What’d you do it for

Stevenson adds just the right mix of flash and dexterity in his riffs and solos to drive them to places that more rudimentary post-punk guitarists couldn’t go. And the rhythm section of Peter Rizzo on bass and Chris Bell on drums complimented his style. Ornate but not ostentatious.

<img src="GLJ-group-photo" alt="GLJ group photo"/>

GLJ circa 1988.

Like The Cult (who Stevenson is currently touring with)  they were shedding their goth skin for more universal appeal. But GLJ never got too heavy. They’re more about the simmer and the slow burn. Take the meditative pulse of Message and the dark churn of Up There.  And Every Door remains one of the best 80’s ballads with the Aston’s wistfully singing about unrequited young love:

I’ve asked your friends
And they all agree
You’re hiding and hiding from me
I’ve knocked on every door in every street
And I don’t know how long it’s gonna be

The album’s biggest hit was The Motion Of Love. But it feels slightly incongruous to the other tracks. Whereas most of House of Dolls has minor-key grandeur, Motion is much more upbeat and poppy.

Indeed, Motion Of Love wasn’t even produced by Peter Walsh. It was actually recorded by Jimmy Iovine, super producer (and future head of Interscope Records). It screams hit single and breaks the mold while doing so.

It also showcases the distinctive vocal stylings of the Aston brothers, who’s Welsh accents and reedy delivery make them sound unlike anyone else. When they bray orgasmically “I want a kiss, just a bit like this, oh, oh, oh, uh, OH YES!’, it’s so exuberant that it can cause a chuckle. But that’s what makes Gene Loves Jezebel so endearing. They held nothing back in their musical melodrama.

Unfortunately that melodrama spilled out from the songs into the band themselves. The Aston twins had a rocky relationship which apparently came to a head during the making of The House of Dolls.

According to an album review on iTunes; The Jezzies themselves hated The House of Dolls, not the songs themselves, but the slick production Walsh covered them in. Co-vocalist Michael Aston hated it most of all, and was frustrated by the group’s growing pop affiliation. He quit the band in the middle of recording, and appears on only two tracks, “Message” and “Up There,” the album’s broodier tracks.

I have no idea if this was true, but either way, Michael Aston left and the band soldiered on without him (despite a very brief reunion in the mid-90’s).

Currently there are two incarnations of Gene Loves Jezebel, one with Jay and one with Michael, but the former has the most connective tissue as it still features Stevenson and original bassist Peter Rizzo.

GLJ’s mix of goth, pop, and glam made for one of the most entertaining bands of the 80’s, and when I listen to Dolls I’m transported back to that 1987 show. And to a more John Huges-esque idyllic version of high school than actually existed.

Adolescence feels larger than life, overwhelming and full of possibility. So The House Of Dolls made for a great soundtrack. And anytime I want to escape middle age I just crank it up.

Want to own The House Of Dolls on iTunes? You can order it below. And Beggars Banquet will be releasing a deluxe edition Box Set of Dolls (in addition to other GLJ albums), which you can get more info on by clicking here.

And check out the other albums in our Albums Revisited series:

Depeche Mode: Ultra

Public Image Ltd: Album

Ministry: The Land Of Rape And Honey

The Cult Electric

Smashing Pumpkin’s Siamese Dream

The Sisters Of Mercy: Floodland

Jane’s Addiction Nothing’s Shocking

Alice In Chains: Jar of Flies

Prong: Cleansing

Radiohead: Pablo Honey

About SLIS

Middle Aged Gen-Exer obsessed with Alternative rock, metal, cult movies, comic books and cable TV.

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17 Responses to Albums Revisited: Gene Loves Jezebel ‘The House of Dolls’

  1. DinaD October 11, 2013 at 6:15 am #

    I prefer Immigrant. House of Dolls is too slick & mainstream sounding.

    • SLIS October 11, 2013 at 8:05 am #

      I enjoy their first too albums a lot. “Stephen” is one of my favorites. But House Of Dolls was my entry point (besides hearing “Desire” on 120 minutes and whatnot.)

    • Michael Aston February 26, 2017 at 1:22 am #

      you are not alone

  2. Brenda Blackhalo October 17, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    Brilliant record, but it was not my fave of them all—that one was yet to come. “Message” and “Up There,” are my LEAST fave tracks on the HOD record…and well you can guess why. Michael’s departure from the band was the best thing that ever happened! The next record they released was proof of that….Kiss of Life is untouchable!

    • SLIS October 17, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

      I think I like ‘Dolls’ better than ‘Kiss’ but there were some good tracks. I actually liked ‘Heavenly Bodies’ ok too. But I guess it’s a tie for me with ‘Discover’ and ‘House.’ Hope they’ll put a new one out someday!

    • Sam October 26, 2013 at 8:10 pm #

      Funny….Message and Up There are probably my 2 favourite songs on HOD. But I do agree with you on Kiss of Life.

      I saw the same tour in 1987 when they came to Toronto. I was 17, it was a school night I was downtown seeing my favourite band right up front – those are awesome memories

      • SLIS October 27, 2013 at 12:31 am #

        They really put on a great show that tour. I remember they had those little ramps the brothers were running and leaping from! Good times indeed.

  3. Peter October 9, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

    I saw them on the very same tour as well and it remains a highlight, the band were in top form. Even though Jay and Michael spent the entire show on opposite sides of the stage not even making eye contact they brought the house down.

    Flesh For Lulu weren’t half bad either.

    I’ve seen them twice since, once for Heavenly Bodies and another for their ill-fated reunion tour where they both duly played the parts of oil and water. Michael wouldn’t even stay on stage when the band performed any of the songs released after he left; I hear it eventually imploded a few dates after the show I saw.

    The House of Dolls may have been slick and somewhat commercial but wow did they hit the nail on the head. I’m an Immigrant and Promises sort of fan firstly but you can’t deny how infectious they were in 1987.

    • SLIS October 10, 2014 at 12:32 am #

      It was a really fun tour. FFL were a really great band that should’ve also been bigger. And Peter, I also saw the GLJ reunion tour, and it was pretty uncomfortable. You could tell Jay was miserable since his brother hired other people than the original lineup, so in that sense it wasn’t even a proper reunion tour either.

      • Michael Aston February 26, 2017 at 12:49 am #

        Not true..both j and I auditioned the players for the 100 date 97 tour. and we’d worked together for the close to 5 years after the HB fall in 93, most of what became 7 are demos we did over those years …if you want documents, you can peruse the evidence, available online near a court in Los Angeles…. her’e the reality..j and the CORE haven’t made a record in a qtr of a century.. the last one, I put together..they stripped my parts and credits and songs and pretended they’d never missed a beat.. it’s called false narrative and false witness…. anyway..the core of glj was and is the fuckin’ twins, that’s all anyone cares about, backing bands come and go… I’ve mad e6 albums since and toured the planet withs ome of the very guys we toured with in 97 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RUFXizmxj8

      • Michael Aston February 26, 2017 at 1:20 am #

        btw the original members …can you name them? Shaving my neck and Promise would be a start..people like you, really piss me off..you are lazy, you make public statements with no substance or concern for facts or feelings…just do some research…jesus.

        • SLIS February 26, 2017 at 1:27 pm #

          Michael,

          the fact is its hard to find a lot of info on GLJ. Seriously, where would you even suggest I start? I have the liner notes from the old albums and some magazine articles and I parse what I can find. I stated clearly in my piece, that the itunes review could be inaccurate.

          I don’t think there’s a GLJ fan on the planet that wouldn’t love to see you guys singing together again. The HOD tour was one of the best memories from high school. I was very bummed when you left. I dug your Edith Grove stuff.

        • SLIS February 26, 2017 at 1:29 pm #

          By core lineup I meant Discover and HOD. Your two biggest albums. I realize the lineups on the first two were different.

  4. Peter October 9, 2014 at 4:50 pm #

    *edit* Promise.

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